Battle continues against formidable wireworm pest

Dave Stewart, The Guardian
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P.E.I. agriculture minister says work still ongoing to find ways to eradicate wireworm, which is attacking Island crops

CHARLOTTETOWN - P.E.I. Agriculture Minister George Webster says a cluster of organizations continue to work on a plan to eradicate a powerful foe that continues to plague Island farmers.

This photo provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada shows a healthy potato tuber, left, compared to one damaged by tunneling wireworm larvae, right.

Opposition MLA Colin LaVie asked Webster a series of questions in the P.E.I. legislature on Wednesday about a pest known as the wireworm.

The wireworm, or click beetle when mature, has proven to be an unstoppable force, not just in P.E.I., but across Canada and in many parts of the world.

U.S. farmers have a list of insecticides they can use but Canadian farmers don’t have the same choice as many chemicals are either banned or still waiting for approval.

“This is a serious problem around the world and it affects all crops growing on P.E.I. (but) there is currently no product that will deal with the wireworm issue,’’ Webster said.

Dr. Bob Vernon, an Agriculture Canada expert based in British Columbia, was on P.E.I. in February and told about 300 farmers who attended a meeting that they’ve run out of registered remedies and that he didn’t see anything coming down the pipe for at least five years.

The voracious insect can destroy up to 40 per cent of a harvest and it doesn’t discriminate. It’s just as happy to munch its way through carrots and corn as it is cabbage, grains and potatoes. It doesn’t affect human health, but either kills the plant or eats a subway tunnel through tubers making them unmarketable.

Webster referred to the fact $3.5 million in research money has been spent in the last two years, much from industry leaders like Cavendish Farms.

Vernon said wireworm has been on the rise ever since the insecticide Lindane was banned in 2004.

Webster said planting brown mustard as a rotational crop has proven effective. He also noted that buckwheat has been effective at keeping the pest away and even killing it.

“It is very serious and we need to find a solution,’’ the minister said.

When LaVie asked what kind of financial compensation the government is giving farmers struck by wireworm, Webster pointed to the province’s crop insurance program that covers about 82 per cent of acreage on P.E.I.

LaVie also asked if there would be a pesticide available soon to deal with the insect.

The minister referred to a meeting two months ago in which scientists told him they’ve isolated a molecule that will destroy the pest, which has a seven- to eight-year life expectancy.

“We need it as soon as possible. It’s costing taxpayers, farmers and the world (but) we need to be sure we can put these products on the market and that they are safe. The safety of our people is paramount.’’

Geographic location: P.E.I., Iceland, Canada U.S. British Columbia

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